Wednesday, January 16, 2008

At Work in the Post Office

by Hannah Roveto

The woman is suspended from the post office counter by her elbows, which rest a good foot or two across the surface. Ugg boots dangle an inch or two off the floor. An inch-wide line of skin shows between her jeans and her fleece.

"Ooh! That one! What's that one?"

The postal clerk says something about cars.

"Yes! Cars! I need two sheets of those."

The clerk looks at me and the woman turns, still in mid-air with a grin.

"I hate being behind people like me at the post office." With that she points at another page to which the man turns. "What are those? Kwanzaa? No. Muslim? Oh, no. Christmas? Now, how come they can't make good Christian stamps? Those aren't pretty at all."

The clerk is a neutral party, offering only the tidbit that the Madonna of the Carnation is an old painting. The factoid is greeted with a grunt.

The post office is a two-room building circa 1880 or so. In the front half, fifteen-foot-long walls of brass mail boxes in three sizes with dial combinations are centered by this counter and this woman. Her long, curly hair is topped by a cap similar to Eastern bloc sailor hats. With a slight shift in angle, one can see postal logos on it.

By the time the woman is done, she has asked for all the sheets of stamps for the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, featuring birds and bees, bats and butterflies near gorgeous blooms. Dozens of them. "A bat! Look, it's all the animals in my backyard! I have that exact bird!" She wants the cars, passes over the princesses, returns the Liberty Bells, waves away all holiday leftovers.

As the clerk rings her up, she proceeds to put twenty or so individual stamps from the hundreds before her onto envelopes. Where I assumed she was buying sheets for younger relatives who collect stamps, no, apparently she is known in her family for using fabulous stamps on her mailings. She proceeds to put each stamp where the return address should go.

The two women behind me are agitated, with thin smiles that reinforce exactly how pleasant they are being at great effort. Maybe it is because I have a front row seat, but I am enjoying this all greatly despite the fact that I should have been home by now.

"Sorry for the wait," the clerk says without expression when the woman leaves, waving her sheets at us and giggling at how she never knew the post office could process mail with the stamp in the upper left hand corner.

"I'm good," I tell him. "I'm a writer. You'll be reading a novel some day, and there will be a scene that seems eerily familiar."

Not a single muscle in his face twitches or shifts, up or down. He hands me my change and takes my single, small package. The woman directly behind me laughs and winks at him.

"John, this is your big chance." She takes her turn at the counter. "Make sure the postal clerk is very handsome and charming."

And so he will be.


kristen spina said...

Love it!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

All true, including the hat. And the postal clerk is handsome in an old-fashioned New England way, when he offers a rare smile. These moments are gifts from the Muse.


mohanley5 said...

Perhaps the clerk would have chatted it up with you, Hannah, if not for the 12 surveillance cameras pointed at him, and the supervisor timing his transactions per customer :)

(I know of a postal carrier who walked her route, and monthly, a supervisor would count her steps between houses, timing her with a stopwatch, and had some calculation to figure if, as the bag became lighter with each delivery, was she more efficient on her route?)

Loved your scene...will it be in your wip, or saved for another?


Lisa said...


I was so disappointed to reach the end of the post! You had me there in line with you. What a great scene.

Sustenance Scout said...

Classic, Hannah! Or should that read "Classic Hannah?" :)

Larramie said...

We had a front row view too, standing right beside you. How very real. Thank you for the :), Hannah.

Anonymous said...

God that was wonderful. Thank you!

I had a less-than-neutral postal clerk who, over the phone--so sadly, no image to go with it, though her name was Laverne, which in itself says a lot, I think--told me she thought this year's nonreligious stamps were the ugliest she'd ever seen. I ordered them anyway.

What's up with Ugg boots? I thought it was a Harvard Square thing, but clearly not. Have they been back for a while? I remember them from about 20 years ago. Great details!

One year, my elderly great aunt used Easter seals for stamps by mistake. They went through fine. Hmmm.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Glad you enjoyed! I am indeed using the characters if not the scene, Five, for the next one. As I told the Group, this woman was too good to save for Novel Number Three and she meshes perfectly with my next protagonist's ex-husband's new wife. Ahem. As to Uggs, they're back although on their way out again. And given what postal clerks deal with, there's another story ready to gel!


Shauna Roberts said...

Great anecdote! I could picture the customer so well.

Does the Post Office clone its workers? I could swear I've met this postal clerk in New Orleans and here in Riverside as well.

Trish Ryan said...

One of the benefits of the writing life...everything is material. I'll try to remember that the next time I'm in line :)

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